10 Miles of a 10 KM Swim

As much as I’ve swum in the San Francisco Bay in the last 4.5 years and been going to Santa Cruz / Monterey my entire life, I’d never actually swum in Monterey Bay. When the Monterey Bay Swimming Association announced that they were reviving the Santa Cruz Pier-to-Pier 10 KM swim, I was in! What better way to introduce yourself to a famous bay just south of where you’ve lived most of your life than to decide to swim 6.2 miles in it?

All perky the night before the swim with friends and fellow marathon swimmers Kim Rutherford (left) and Robin Rose (right).

I knew that I could swim a 10 KM with little trouble or preparation since this is a sport that’s more about endurance (which I have a lot of) than speed (which I’m a proud member of the “Elite Slow” club). Knowing that my usual and preferred kayak support of one Cathy Harrington would probably not be available since she’s in the midst of training for her own big marathon swim this summer, I set my sites on a irrefutable kayaking slut (in his own words), my friend Miguel. Miguel has been spending the better part of the year kayaking for just about everyone training for a marathon swim so hey, what’s one more?

Miguel foolishly agreed to be my kayaker for Pier-to-Pier. We did a couple of 2.5 and 3 hour training swims to work out our dynamics on the water and also to force me to stay in the water longer than my usual morning swim. I hadn’t swum more than a couple of hours at a time in months. Since I’d never swam in Santa Cruz before, I didn’t know what the water was like in temperature, condition, wildlife (Pacific sea nettles!) or salinity. I figured that this 10 KM would only take about 4 hours for me to do and like most of my rides, I had no idea what this route that I would be swimming was either.

Needless to say, this 10 KM was dominated by South Enders. 15 swimmers and 12 of us were from South End! Scott Tapley, one of MBSA’s board members and of course a fellow South Ender, asked who was from South End during the safety briefing. Only about 3 people there weren’t South Enders. Actually all 5 directors of MBSA are all South Enders also. If you ever hear of someone who swims in the San Francisco Bay and goes off to do crazy long hard swims elsewhere (usually also in cold water), more likely than not they belong to South End (and not that other club next to us who gets more press).

On the shuttle from the finish at Santa Cruz to the start in Capitola!

I’m usually over-prepared for my swims since I don’t like to run out of feeds. I had 4 feed bottles even though I knew that I’d probably only need 3 at the most. We got ready at the swim start in Capitola. I still use the method Lynne Cox taught me of applying sunscreen 2 hours and 1 hour beforehand so it has time to soak in. I use Headhunter Suncreen these days thanks to my friend Amy Gubser’s recommendation. It comes in a spray version and goes on clear so I’m not leaving white zinc oxide marks everywhere. I’d also put on a layer of Safe Sea Anti-Jellyfish Sting Lotion since I didn’t know how I’d react to being stung by Pacific sea nettles if I came across any. Cathy is there kayaking for Susan Blew (a last minute favor) and I jokingly ask her if she’ll lube me up like she had to for my Catalina Channel swim. I wish I had a photo of her reaction. We became much better friends during my Catalina swim whether she liked it or not! 😉 I liberally apply my Bag Balm every possible place I remember that I can possibly chafe.

We go over to the kayaks and drop our feeds off and then the swimmers head to the start on the other side of the Capitola Beach pier. Okay, ready to work on my tan for the next few hours. How hard can this be? Famous last words.

We start off and I meet Miguel at the end of the pier and we head off. Monterey Bay isn’t quite like what I see in the exhibit at my work of nice clear water with lots of kelp and wildlife swimming around. This is like a mixture between SF Bay and Laguna Beach where I’ve got the green water of the SF Bay with kelp from Laguna. For the first few KM I wonder why am I doing this. I keep going though because Miguel came all the way down here to help support me and I don’t want to have wasted his time so I keep going. The water temperature isn’t too bad and probably around 60 F. Miguel asks if I want to feed after 30 minutes and I decline. I normally would do this on longer swims but for something this short, I’d rather push through for the first hour. Given that the turn buoy is supposed to be about 1.6 or 1.7 miles out, I figure that my first feed will be around this buoy. Miguel stops me at the hour mark to feed and I’m nowhere near the buoy. I’m wondering if I’m swimming ridiculously slow for some reason. I stop to tell him that I really need his body abeam to my head so I can see where he is. It’s a comfort thing for me too since I like to sight off of the kayaker without having to turn or bend my neck. If I can only see the stern of the kayak, I have no idea where the rest of it is. Surprisingly too, I can actually hear and understand Miguel even with my earplugs in! I can’t hear Cathy, horns, people on boats yelling, whistles, etc. but I can hear Miguel squawking at me. We keep plugging along until I get to the buoy. He feeds me around there and is saying something on his radio to one of the support boats. I’m just treading water wondering when can we get moving again. I know the plan is to make a 90 degree turn here and it should be a straight shot to the Santa Cruz pier. The sun is out and I’m enjoying the little warmth of it on my back. Miguel keeps pointing towards what I assume is Santa Cruz and I can’t see anything in front of me.

South End Rowing Club contingent at the Santa Cruz Pier-to-Pier 10 KM

I look at my watch and see that I’m past the 5 KM mark. Goodie, so we’re in the second half of this swim and it should be relatively downhill from here and over in the next couple of hours. The sun has gone away and the sky is gray which I assume is just overcast, not fog. I feel something on my foot and think it may be a sting but Miguel assures me that it’s just seaweed. I’m so paranoid about jellyfish and afraid that I’m going to run smack into one sooner or later. I see more kelp so I know that I’m getting closer into shore again. I start thinking about my Dawn Patrol pod in Laguna and start playing a game with myself of naming the kelp after my friends like Lynn, Cherie, Howard, Marc, Carol, Tanya, Peter, etc. I’m fighting off a slight doubt that creeps in that I’m not sure if I can do this. Peter’s always been one of my biggest supporters and I just swam with him in Laguna a month ago. Suddenly I get the confidence that I can do this swim because I know Peter would be telling me that I could do it if he was there. I can see one of the support boats so instead of thinking of there being 14 other swimmers in the water and this being part of a larger event, I go into my solo swim mode of pretending that that’s just my support boat on my left and my kayaker on my right. The rest of the swim’s participants fade away. My brain finally re-engages and any sense of doubt goes quickly away. I’ve swum about 8 KM now.

My right shoulder starts bothering me. F***. This happened just under the halfway mark of my Catalina swim when I pinched it and spent 11 hours in severe pain. Not again! I start thinking about my Catalina swim when Peter had gotten in with me and tricked me into trying to stretch it out. I start trying to glide more. I notice also that my sinuses are irritated and inflamed. I don’t have any ibuprofen in my feed cooler either. I’m kind of wishing Peter was here so he could take care of me as he’d know what to do. He’d probably have started me off with making sure I had ibuprofen in my feed pack to begin with actually. I’m thinking that we have only about 2 KM left so I can crawl my way to the finish like this. The wind has picked up and all I can see is water and Miguel.

I’ve been swimming 10 KM now and see that we’re off shore still and that the pier is actually way off to my left. Heck, the Boardwalk is way off to my left even. I’m wondering what’s going on and how we ended up so far off course. My left shoulder is starting to bother me probably due to my right shoulder hurting so the left is trying to compensate. My tongue is starting to swell from the salinity (happens around the 5 hr mark for me) and I don’t have any mouthwash in my bag to neutralize it. This is starting to feel like the painful parts of my Catalina swim! We’re in line with the end of the pier though so Miguel tells me to swim directly towards it. I’m getting grumpy and so he kicks his vocal support into overdrive to keep pushing me (omg this worked wonderfully). Like my mom, Miguel is Peruvian so he knows how to deal with me getting grouchy (along with him understanding the pain I’m putting myself through right now). Basically the more he barks at me to get and keep moving, the less time I have to bitch. After swimming for awhile and seemingly getting nowhere, he tells me that the pier is about 3/4 of a mile away. WTF? He suggests that I can pull myself if I want to. I’ve swam almost 13 KM by now and tell him “No. I’m finishing this f***ing swim.” and put my head down to keep going.

Forever and a day later, we finally get to the end of the pier and right into what I swear is the coldest patch of water in the entire Monterey Bay. I half-considered pulling myself here just to get out of it. The water is muffling my screams from how cold it is. My shoulders are in pain and I’m trying to not rotate them too much. I don’t want to visit my sports physician at St. Francis Memorial Hospital again (even though I’ve kept my promise of not seeing him again for at least 2 years after the last visit back in 2015). I know we’re in the home stretch but still have .75 miles to go. I’m looking at the buildings on the pier and using them for distance markers to break up this last part.

Not your friends!

I finally get to Cowell’s Beach and clear the water. Robin, Evan, Naji, Dylan, and a few others are there to greet me. I look at my watch and it says 15.8 KM (9.8 miles) in 5:44:40. F***. 2.5 more miles and it would equal the distance of my Anacapa Channel swim, which I did a lot more than just 2 training swims. I swam 3.5 miles and 2 hours longer than I’d been planning on. I don’t stick around for long after as all I want to do is get out of my suit and shower. Miguel and I throw everything in the car and head back to Robin’s house where we were staying. Unlike my Catalina swim, my shoulders aren’t so sore that I can get my own suit off (note: for Catalina, Cathy had to help me because I couldn’t lift my arms all the way). I take a long shower that only ends because I’m hungry and I had a little panettone that I’d brought back from my last trip to Lima waiting for me down in the kitchen.

I find out later that the fog and wind caused a lot of issues and that nearly everyone was blown off course and had to swim more than 10 KM. Miguel tells me that the buoy had moved .5 miles which is why it took us so long to get to it before we could turn. Looking at my path later, I basically swam along the coast all the way to Santa Cruz instead of swimming a straight line to Santa Cruz. Cathy tells me that her water thermometer measured 55 F at the turn buoy (a 5 degree drop from the beach). I swum the longest in both distance and time. I’m glad that I had my previous marathon swimming experience of being able to shut out the world except for the crew directly around me. Miguel was wonderful in being able to keep me engaged for the last few KM when I was starting to mentally lose it a bit and keep me focused. I apologized to him afterwards which he said to not worry about it as he understood that it wasn’t personal. I owe him a lot though for helping me through this.

This was my first successful marathon swim in almost 3 years. I’ve got some unfinished business with a not-quite-angelic island later this year so will continue with my training. I’m going to resume my overdue stroke work with Evan as I’ve known something hasn’t been quite right with it for awhile and this swim emphasized that it’s time to pick it up again. I’m proud of successfully completing this swim, which was mostly a mental than physical accomplishment. Again proving that even though my body wasn’t in the best shape for it, if my brain wasn’t there, there’s nothing my body could have done to compensate for that. However because I could get and keep my brain engaged, my body was able to pull through even though it was experiencing some degree of pain for almost half of it.

Still beats swimming in a pool.

My swim route for the Santa Cruz Pier-to-Pier 10 KM.


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3 Responses to 10 Miles of a 10 KM Swim

  1. markbittner says:

    I was expecting something about a powerful, graceful, beautiful ocean swim. Pain and struggle instead. My hats off to you.

  2. timpmooney says:

    Good job Kelley, nice writing too. Thanks for the post!

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